You can’t seem to have a conversation about cloud technology and its impact on business without the topic of Shadow IT coming up. The two concepts at times seem so tightly intertwined, one would think there is a certain inevitability, almost a causal linkage between them. Shadow IT itself tends to be an emotional topic for many, dividing people into one of two camps. One camp tends to see Shadow IT as a great evil putting companies, their data, and systems at risk by implementing solutions without oversight or governance. Another camp sees Shadow IT as the great innovators that are helping the company succeed by allowing the business to bypass a slow and stagnant IT organization. Does going to the cloud inherently mean there will be Shadow IT? If it does, is that necessarily a bad or good thing?
All of This Has Happened Before, and Will Happen Again…
A business architect colleague of mine once said to me, ‘”There are only so many patterns in the world. Technology may help or hinder in execution, but the patterns remain.” I see Shadow IT as one of those patterns. Shadow IT is not a unique construct caused by the cloud. As long as there has been technology change and disruption in business, some level of Shadow IT has existed, going back to the days of the first personal computers.
It is human nature to find the shortest distance between two points. When there is a roadblock, perceived or actual, to getting to their destination, people will try to find a way around that roadblock. If the roadblock, perceived or actual, is seen as the IT organization, the shortcut tends to manifest as a Shadow IT implementation.
I don’t think anyone would argue that the cloud is a disruptive technology. It takes the in-house resource paradigm and turns it on its head. The cloud is also hot. Gartner expects that by 2016 the bulk of IT spending will be for the cloud. Business units are deluged with the hype. Cloud solution vendors are knocking on their doors, frequently bypassing the CIO. Business units can purchase technology solutions out of operational budgets rather than capital. They can bypass IT and the CIO entirely, and many do. The cloud definitely can and frequently does contribute to the Shadow IT pattern, of that there is no doubt.
It’s Not About the Cloud. It’s Not About Shadow IT. It’s About the Business.
First and foremost, both IT and business need to remember that the cloud itself is not the true destination; do not give into the hype. The true destination is in achieving business goals and identifying how to leverage technology to reach those goals, thus providing true business value. The cloud (or any technology) is simply a vehicle, a conduit that can help you reach that destination. The cloud is a very powerful tool in the toolbox. It can offer a variety of ways to help you get to your destination depending on where you want go in solving challenges and providing value to the business.
Secondly, if a business group has implemented a solution that resulted in Shadow IT, do not treat the business group and that Shadow IT implementation as the enemy. They are not doing this for evil purposes. They are doing it to accomplish business goals. They perceived impediments in the current environment, and moved forward to solve their problem. It is inherent on the IT organization to work with the business and understand the needs that drove them to a Shadow IT implementation. Work with the business to integrate their solution into your environment in a way that protects your company’s systems and data while providing for the particular group’s needs.
Back to the Original Question
So, is it inevitable that Cloud and Shadow IT will pair together? An agile and innovative IT organization that partners with the business in solving their goals can help mitigate the instances of it occurring. Even having the best IT organization will not prevent the pairing from occurring at some point. It is human nature that some group will still see a roadblock and want to find the quickest way around it. If that’s the case, does it matter? That is not a simple yes or no answer. Ultimately, the decider is the business and everything is a tradeoff. There are potential risks with Shadow IT (such as putting data at risk, and duplication of effort and costs across the company to name a few), but there is also value being provided by the solution. The onus is on the IT organization to work with the business to understand the goals and value being provided. Educate the business on any tradeoffs involved in going the Shadow IT route. The cloud is a valuable tool in achieving business goals; don’t let the fear of it pairing with Shadow IT prevent you from providing value back to the business. It’s not about the technology, it’s about achieving business goals and providing value.
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